ARIZONA NEWS

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema won’t change Senate filibuster stance to pass voting bill

Jan 13, 2022, 12:05 PM | Updated: 1:26 pm
U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema delivers a speech on the Senate floor on Jan. 13, 2022. (U.S. Senate Scree...
U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema delivers a speech on the Senate floor on Jan. 13, 2022. (U.S. Senate Screenshot)
(U.S. Senate Screenshot)

Democrats hoping U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema could be swayed to change her long-held view on the filibuster in order to pass voting rights legislation she supports couldn’t have liked what they heard when the Arizonan spoke on the Senate floor Thursday.

Sinema called the filibuster – a Senate rule requiring 60 votes to pass certain types of bills – a “guardrail” that whichever party is out of power always considers an obstacle.

“Eliminating the 60-vote threshold on a party line with the thinnest of possible majorities to pass these bills that I support will not guarantee that we prevent demagogues from winning office,” she said during a 20-minute speech. “Indeed, some who undermined the principles of democracy have already been elected.

“Rather, eliminating the 60-vote threshold will simply guarantee that we lose a critical tool that we need to safeguard our democracy from threats in the years to come.”

Sinema warned that federal policies in general would become more extreme if parties with small majorities were able to pass laws without bipartisan participation.

“It’s comfortable for members of each party, particularly those who spent their career in party politics, to think that their respective party alone can move the country forward,” she said.

“Party control becomes a goal in and of itself, instead of prioritizing a healthy, appropriate balance in which Americans’ diverse views and shared values are represented.”

Arizona Democratic Party Chairwoman and state Sen. Raquel Terán wasn’t happy with Sinema’s message.

“This is not a divisive issue, this is about the future of democracy,” she said in a statement.

“Without the protection of voting rights, democracy fails. We are disappointed to say the least that she has chosen to protect an antiquated rule over her constituents.”

Sinema delivered her speech shortly before President Joe Biden met with Senate Democrats in an effort to push through voting legislation the House passed earlier in the day. After the meeting, Biden all but acknowledged defeat.

“One thing for certain, like every other major civil rights bill that came along, if we missed the first time, we can come back and try it a second time,” he told reporters. “As long as I’m in the White House, as long as I’m engaged at all, I’m going to be fighting.”

Since taking control of Congress and the White House last year, Democrats have vowed to counteract a wave of new state laws, inspired by former President Donald Trump’s false claims of a stolen election, that have made it harder to vote.

But their efforts have stalled in the narrowly divided Senate, where they lack the votes to overcome a Republican filibuster.

For weeks, Sinema and fellow moderate Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia have come under intense pressure to support a rule change that would allow the party to pass legislation with a simple majority — a step both have long opposed.

Though Trump and other Republicans also pressed for filibuster changes when he was president, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called Sinema’s speech an important act of “political courage” that could “save the Senate as an institution.”

Democrats have shifted their strategy in order to push the legislation forward. They will use existing Senate rules in an effort to bypass the Republican filibuster that has prevented them from formally debating the bill on the chamber’s floor.

But the new approach also does little to resolve the central problem Democrats face: They lack Republican support to pass the elections legislation on a bipartisan basis, but also don’t have support from all 50 Democrats for changing the Senate rules to allow passage on their own.

Republicans opposing the legislation view it as federal overreach that would infringe on states’ abilities to conduct their own elections. And they’ve pointed out that Democrats opposed changes to the filibuster that Trump sought when he was president.

The Democratic package of voting and ethics legislation would usher in the biggest overhaul of U.S. elections in a generation, striking down hurdles to voting enacted in the name of election security, reducing the influence of big money in politics and limiting partisan influence over the drawing of congressional districts.

The package would create national election standards that would trump the state-level GOP laws. It would also restore the ability of the Justice Department to police election laws in states with a history of discrimination.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Sen. Kyrsten Sinema won’t change Senate filibuster stance to pass voting bill